Ottawa County

Pandemic, erosion force restrictions at state, county parks

Known as the unofficial start of summer, Memorial Day provided a hint of what summertime activity might look like this year at Lake Michigan beaches.

A potent combination of coronavirus guidelines and high-water levels lowered attendance during the holiday at lakeside beaches from Holland to Grand Haven, despite the lure of summer-like weather.

Coronavirus recommendations greet visitors to state parks in Holland and Grand Haven.
Warning signs alert visitors to dangers of beach erosion at Ottawa County lakeshore parks.
Coronavirus threat closes dog beach at Kirk Park.Some parking areas inside Holland State Park and Grand Haven State Park are closed as a way to halt the viral pandemic by limiting crowds on the beaches.

The restrictions force visitors to compete for hard-to-find parking spots outside the parks.

Open, with limitations

At Tunnel Park, Olive Shores Park, Kirk Park, Rosy Mound Park, and North Beach Park — lakeshore recreational areas operated by the Ottawa County Parks & Recreation Department — the parking lots are fully opened but with limitations.

Memorial Day visitors to Grand Haven State Park practice safe social distancing.
The beach at Tunnel Park was much larger prior to high-water levels.
The Tunnel Park beach on Memorial Day shows the effects of high-water erosion.
Parking beyond designated spaces within those county parks is strictly prohibited to discourage overcrowding. That ban includes parking next to roadways near the parks. Violators will be ticketed.

Visitors to those county parks encounter an additional spacing problem — staking out a spot along shrinking beaches hammered in recent years by rising water levels.
The beach at Kirk Park gives way to battering by storm-whipped waves.
An eroding dune forces the closure of the ridge trail at Kirk Park.
The dunes-outlook platform at Kirk Park faces the possibility of collapse.Warning signs in those parks caution visitors not to set beach chairs under overhanging sand and to avoid digging into precarious cliff sides.

Of the county’s beachfront parks, Kirk Park has been hardest hit by lakefront erosion.

The park bars access to a dunes outlook platform in danger of collapsing, storm-whipped waves destroyed a stairway leading to the beach, and a portion of the beach set aside for dogs and their owners is closed. A number of trees that once stood high in the dunes now litter the shoreline.

Relieved to be outdoors

Despite the pandemic and erosion issues, holiday visitors to the beaches expressed relief to be outdoors in nicer weather after months of self-quarantine in the wake of the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order issued by Michigan’s governor.

In addition, parkgoers overall practiced safe social distancing by keeping at least 6 feet between their beach encampments.
The stairway to the beach at Kirk Park falls victim to a shrinking dune.
Dune-side trees topple in the wake of lakeshore destruction at Kirk Park.
High-water conditions threaten the pavilion at North Beach Park near Ferrysburg.
Park playgrounds fall silent during times of pandemic.

However, the majority of lakefront visitors shied away from wearing the protective masks that have become a familiar accessory in many social situations.

Also missing from the holiday beach experience was the sound of children enjoying activity in park playgrounds. Those areas are surrounded by fencing and decked with signs announcing their closure in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus.

Despite their enduring appeal to residents and visitors alike, the beach parks face limited use for as long as coronavirus restrictions remain in place and until high-water levels recede.

This article is part of The Lakeshore, a new featured section of Rapid Growth focused on West Michigan's Lakeshore region. Over the coming months, Rapid Growth will be expanding to cover the complex challenges in this community by focusing on the organizations, projects, programs, and individuals working to improve conditions and solve problems for their region. As the coverage continues, look for The Lakeshore publication, coming in 2020.
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